It took three years and an estimated 47,000 tons of steel to construct the Tappan Zee Bridge, which opened to the public on Dec. 14, 1955. According to historical sources, due to a steel shortage caused by the Korean War, the bridge was designed with a limitation that made it unable to transfer its weight in the event one of its supports failed. Meaning: its days were numbered as soon as it opened.
In 2019, after 62 years of service (12 years longer than its life expectancy), the Tappan Zee’s eastern half was demolished, and the western half was lowered and carted away on a barge. But while the bridge is no more, a small percentage of its steel has been used in the sculptures being installed around its replacement, the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.
Artists submitting project ideas for the new bridge’s art program were encouraged to incorporate steel from the old bridge, and three of the 10 commissioned artworks do just that.
“It was an interesting challenge, and it was great to be able to do it,” says artist Thomas Lendvai, who normally works in wood. “It took me out of my comfort zone.” His sculpture, Untitled, for Imre Lendvai (dedicated to his father) is made from 90% reclaimed Tappan Zee steel. It consistsof seven graduated octagons, increasing from three feet to nine feet wide, slightly askew to each other, with congruent interior angle sides. The sculpture was fabricated in Mount Vernon and painted a terracotta red.
Lendvai, who has done large-scale work before but not public sculpture, says his piece was designed to put the viewer in mind of an echo or ripples on the water, a fitting concept considering its permanent home on the Westchester side of the Hudson River.
“Using bridge steel got me to think of the sculpture as being more like a skeletal form,” he says, as well as giving him ideas for future projects. “It will be exciting to see what comes after this one.”
Artist Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong’s sculpture, Current, also contains Tappan Zee reclaimed steel, both in its base and at the top of its 12 arches, which range in size from four-feet six-inches to 12 feet.
“For me, this deliberate material choice was a way to pay homage to the legacy of the old bridge through these artifacts as preserved memories of the industrial past, while uniting this with other tech-forward materials,” says Wong, whose piece includes light animations and responsive LED illumination. Wong’s piece can be found at the bridge’s Westchester Landing.
Artist Fitzhugh Karol says you can still see stamps from Bethlehem Steel on the old bridge plates that make up his sculpture, Approach, as well as dings from more than six decades of hard use, but that’s just fine with him.
So are the pieces of reclaimed steel with capsule-shaped holes carved into them, which he alternated with solid planks in his work. “I designed it as a solid form at first,” Karol says, “but when I saw the perforated planks, I decided to use different types of steel in the best way for the form.”
Karol’s sculpture also contains pieces of the new bridge. While touring a temporary exhibit designed to illuminate its construction, Karol noticed two large steel rings on display. He asked the show’s organizers if he could have them for his piece, and the response was immediate. “They took them out and said great,” he recalls, and they are now part of Approach. See it on the Rockland side of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.
Read more about the artworks created for the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge’s new shared use path:
The Recycled Steel Gives a Nod to the Old Tappan Zee
Three artists whose sculptures have been installed at the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge have used recycled steel from the Tappan Zee Bridge within their work. Read more about their sculptures here.
Reflections on a Bridge: a Conversation
ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam and Deputy Director of Public Programs Kathleen Reckling reflect on the process of helping New York Thruway Authority to commission major artworks for the shared use path at the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.
The “Current” Keeps on Moving
Art and architecture intersect in the elegant geometry of Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong’s “Current” sculpture.
Artist Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong Brings Current Into Being
Installing Current, Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong’s winning sculpture design, in Tarrytown at the Westchester Landing of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge’s path, is a challenging endeavor.
The Ephemeral Nature of Things
Nyack artist Chris Soria, who is one of the local artists selected to install artworks along the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge’s bicycle/pedestrian path, is creating a colorful mural that celebrates the rich biodiversity of the Hudson River Valley.
An Ode to the Lenape People
The first of ten original works of art is scheduled to be installed on the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge path this month.
A version of this article first appeared in the July issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNewsis distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.